One year on—Trade in goods between Great Britain and the European Union Contents

Chapter 6: Longer-term questions

The UK’s long-term approach to border controls

A lighter-touch border

254.During his appearance before the Committee, the Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost said he “would be surprised if, when we finally bring in these controls in January and July, we do exactly the same thing as the EU does.”288 Similarly, in his speech given in Lisbon on 12 October 2021, he said that even when border controls are fully in place, “we are never going to adopt the same levels of checks and controls required by EU systems because we don’t believe the level of risk requires them.”289

255.In terms of the specific measures that might be implemented to realise this ambition, there was general support among our witnesses for a lighter-touch border with fewer checks and a higher risk-tolerance, particularly for EU goods. Sam Lowe of the Centre for European Reform told us that in “the long run, there is probably an economic argument to be made that the UK should have a higher risk tolerance permanently for imported goods … than it might have done as an EU member.”290 For the British Chambers of Commerce, William Bain did not “see a problem with [the UK] wanting to have a lower proportion of physical checks than the EU.”291

256.Sarah Laouadi set out Logistics UK’s support for “a risk-based approach to border controls and border requirements.” To that end, she hoped and was confident that “the UK Government will adopt a pragmatic approach towards those genuine errors that do not have any effect on the actual level of risk posed by a consignment.”292

257.Richard Ballantyne also stressed the need for “consistency … we cannot have certain routes being prioritised over others so that there is a commercial advantage or disadvantage for certain operators.”293

258.Sam Lowe noted the lack of detail in the Government’s proposals: “If [a future light touch regime] is the case, the UK Government should start telling people now what that will be so that they can prepare for it because, at the moment, it has just been alluded to rather than being set out in a solid proposal.”294

259.The Government did give some examples of areas where a light touch approach might be pursued; Lord Frost and the Cabinet Office’s Emma Churchill both cited the proportion of SPS consignments that would be subject to physical or documentary checks, with the former suggesting that the UK “might well come to a decision that [the EU’s approach] is disproportionate compared with the actual risk.” However, Emma Churchill stressed that this work was only just beginning in government, and that it was therefore not possible to provide further details.

260.We welcome the Government’s ambition to implement a light-touch border regime with a higher risk tolerance than the EU. While we see the ability to do so as being a potential benefit of the UK’s exit from the EU, the Government’s plans in this area currently lack detail. We urge the Government to set out its approach in full as soon as possible.

261.We share the Government’s hope that the EU will choose to emulate the UK’s light-touch approach to border arrangements in the future. However, we encourage the Government to engage in an active dialogue with the EU on these matters, with the aim of agreeing mutually beneficial simplifications as soon as possible, rather than hoping that this will be achieved passively in the future.

The 2025 UK Border Strategy

262.During his appearance before the Committee, Lord Frost spelled out the Government’s “aspiration to have the best border in the world by 2025” as set out in the Government’s 2025 UK Border Strategy (see Box 1). Lord Frost expressed the hope that a “well-managed, light-touch border that applies to all third countries, EU and non-EU alike” might also encourage the EU to look at its own border regime and adapt accordingly.295

Box 1: The 2025 UK Border Strategy

The 2025 UK Border Strategy, published in December 2020, sets out the Government’s vision for the UK border to be “the most effective in the world” by 2025, by creating, in partnership with industry, a border which “embraces innovation, simplifies processes for traders and travellers and improves the security and biosecurity of the UK.”

The Strategy sets out a number of programmes to achieve these aims, including:

  • The development of a Single Trade Window, allowing traders to submit all relevant import, export, and transit related regulatory requirements and data into a single government digital portal;
  • Implementation of an Electronic Travel Authorisation to speed passenger journeys through ports;
  • A major review of the agencies and checks that occur at the border, “to rationalise these wherever possible”.

Source: Cabinet Office, 2025 UK Border Strategy (17 December 2020): [accessed 13 December 2021]

263.There was widespread support for the 2025 UK Border Strategy among the witnesses. Luke Hindlaugh of the Food and Drink Federation thought that it was “an excellent strategy by the Government. There are a lot of great things in there,” adding that his organisation strongly supports “the UK doing things differently in its imports regime. Although we criticised the move to delay [import controls], we are not against the UK Government making innovations.” 296 Logistics UK and Dr Anna Jerzewska of Trade and Borders also spoke favourably about the Strategy.297

264.Richard Ballantyne of the British Ports Association was also very supportive of the Strategy but cautioned that further work was needed to achieve: “If we want the best border in the world, we are going to have to introduce some targets for government … there is a bit to be to be done on the trade facilitation points and making sure that we are competitive and open for business.”298

265.The Institute for Government expressed similar sentiments, noting that the Strategy is “a significant programme of work for government and means that processes at the border will continue to evolve over the coming years, even once post-Brexit full import controls are in place.”299 They also warned that while “full implementation of the 2025 Border Strategy should also make compliance with some border formalities simpler for traders … it will not remove non-tariff barriers”.300

266.We welcome the UK Government’s 2025 Border Strategy, which is strongly supported by industry and contains some excellent innovations to the UK’s future border regime. While the Strategy itself will not remove non-tariff barriers, it will simplify processes for traders. It does mean, however, that the UK’s border regime will continue to evolve for some years beyond the immediate deadlines in 2022.

Digitisation and technology

267.A further avenue for improvement at the border is the use of technology. Dr Anna Jerzewska observed that “the fact that we still use paper in international trade is unfortunate.”301 Richard Ballantyne also recognised that “there is a lot more we can do to embrace technology and automation and digitalisation in our flow of logistics and customs.”302

268.However, while there was general support for improved technology, Sarah Laouadi stressed that “we have to be careful to introduce technology where it makes sense”—for example, by focusing on areas such as certification rather than direct interactions with hauliers at the border.303 Dr Anna Jerzewska echoed this theme: “Any trade facilitation measures should be encouraged. What is a bit concerning sometimes is the expectation for technology to solve everything.”304

Regulatory divergence

269.EU legislation has so far largely been retained in UK law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The UK’s exit from the EU and the end of the transition period has opened the door to the UK’s divergence from EU law and regulations. To that end, the Government received recommendations on 16 June 2021 from 10 Downing Street’s Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR)305, chaired by Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, and George Freeman MP. The recommendations set out a framework for regulatory reform with innovation and proportionality at its heart.

270.Lord Frost responded to the Taskforce’s recommendations, on 16 September 2021, expressing the Government’s intention to “begin a new series of reforms to the legislation we inherited on EU exit, in many cases as recommended by the TIGRR report.” In his statement to the House, Lord Frost cited two examples: the replacement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with a “pro-growth, trusted data rights regime, more proportionate and less burdensome” than the EU’s;306 and “to overhaul our clinical trial frameworks, based on outdated EU legislation, giving a major boost to the UK’s world-class R&D sector and getting patients access to new lifesaving medicines more quickly.”307

271.It was clear from the evidence that divergence is an area of interest and potential concern for many stakeholder groups. Elly Darkin of Global Counsel told us that, in her experience, “businesses … are now looking at horizon scanning for regulatory divergence issues”.308 For the Federation of Small Businesses, James Sibley was positive about divergence, recognising an “opportunity to review the overall body of regulation and assess where there are duplicative requirements and unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on SMEs”309 and highlighting “lots of things that we think could be done differently … how the EU deals with e-commerce and low-value consignments could be dealt with a lot more liberally by the UK.310

272.There was, however, by no means a consensus that divergence was desirable. William Bain was reticent: “Although clearly the UK will plough its own furrow in terms of regulating new industries … we see the benefit in keeping regulation on industrial goods the same as it is at the moment”,311 adding that in “relation to agri-food [regulation], it is hard to think of any areas at this point that you would want to see immediate divergence … you would surely need to do an impact assessment to see what the costs on business would be”.312 From an aerospace and defence perspective, ADS could see “no benefit in divergence of safety requirements between GB and EU border controls or wider regulatory standards”.313

273.For the Government, Emma Churchill sought to provide reassurance: “I am absolutely sure that as the process goes on the implications for businesses that are trading, not just with the EU but with the rest of the world, will be fully considered.”314 Similarly, the Paymaster General, Michael Ellis MP, said that although “the whole point” of Brexit was the “ability to set our own laws”, this “does not mean that we want to change our rules just for the sake of it.”315

274.The question of regulatory divergence is not, however, solely in the hands of the Government as the EU will continue to legislate and enact new regulations governing trade in goods which, now that the UK has left the EU, do not have effect in GB.316 As James Sibley observed, even “if the UK stands still, the EU is going to move.”317 The Committee has received separate evidence from UK in a Changing Europe regarding its analysis of recent legislative and regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU. A tabulated summary tracking all developments can be found on the Committee’s website.318

275.It is clear that most businesses are not, in principle, opposed to divergence. We welcome the Government’s assurance that it will consider the impact on trade before it takes any steps in this regard, and request that it explains how this impact will be considered in further detail in its response to this report.

Conformity assessment

276.In addition to the customs and SPS checks and controls that we have examined in this inquiry, there is also the further deadline of 1 January 2023, the delayed date for the mandatory requirement for businesses to use the UK’s own conformity assessment markings. These markings were introduced on 1 January 2021 but, until 1 January 2023, businesses may also continue to use the EU CE marking.319 Elly Darkin saw this as an “important date for many businesses” and an example of the type of timeline that would “be hidden for different sectors in different ways”. 320

277.Additionally, recognising the potential problems posed by the existence of two competing conformity assessment regimes, James Sibley strongly encouraged “exploring the potential, perhaps via specialised committee, for mutual recognition in conformity assessment”, which “would be very, very valuable”.321 It should be noted that the UK previously sought this in the negotiations that led to the TCA, but that its proposals were rejected by the EU.

288 Oral evidence taken on 26 October 2021 (Session 2021–22), Q 11 (Lord Frost CMG)

289 Cabinet Office, ‘Lord Frost speech: Observations on the present state of the nation’, (12 October 2021): [accessed 1 December 2021]

290 6 (Sam Lowe)

291 Q 25 (William Bain)

292 43 (Sarah Laouadi)

293 Q 44 (Richard Ballantyne)

294 6 (Sam Lowe)

295 Oral evidence taken on 26 October 2021 (Session 2021–22), Q 11 (Rt Hon Lord Frost CMG)

296 Q 25 (Luke Hindlaugh)

297 Written evidence from Logistics UK (TIG0010); Q 52 (Dr Anna Jerzewska)

298 Q 43 (Richard Ballantyne)

299 Written evidence from the Institute for Government (TIG0014)

300 Ibid.

301 Q 53 (Dr Anna Jerzewska)

302 Q 53 (Richard Ballantyne)

303 Q 53 (Sarah Laouadi)

304 Q 53 (Dr Anna Jerzewska)

305 Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, ‘Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform independent report’, (16 June 2021): [accessed 1 December 2021]

306 In his appearance before the Committee on 26 October, Lord Frost was asked whether the Government’s intentions to diverge from the GDPR would jeopardise the stability of the UK’s data adequacy decision, which was agreed by the European Commission in June 2021 and permits the cross-border transfer of personal data from the EU to the UK without additional safeguards. Lord Frost suggested that it was possible that the adequacy decision might be withdrawn in these circumstances but said that it “would certainly be our aspiration” for the UK to retain adequacy as it diverged (Q 15). The Government has previously said, “Imports and exports of both goods and services heavily depend on the free flow of personal data between the UK and the EU.” Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. (2020),. Explanatory framework for adequacy discussions: Section A: Cover Note: [accessed 8 December 2021]

307 Cabinet Office, Lord Frost statement to the House of Lords: 16 September 2021 (16 September 2021): [accessed 1 December 2021]

308 Q 2 (Elly Darkin)

309 Q 18 (James Sibley)

310 Q 25 (James Sibley)

311 Q 18 (William Bain)

312 Q 25 (William Bain)

313 Written evidence from ADS (TIG0003)

314 Q 69 (Emma Churchill)

315 Q 88 (Michael Ellis MP)

316 Under the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, Regulations enacted by the EU within the scope of the Protocol, primarily pertaining to trade in goods, continue to apply to Northern Ireland.

317 Q 18 (James Sibley)

318 UK in a Changing Europe, UK-EU regulatory divergence tracker (9 September 2021): [accessed 1 December 2021]

319 Conformity assessment is the procedure for ensuring a product meets necessary regulatory requirements before it is placed on the market.

320 Q 1 (Elly Darkin)

321 Q 32 (James Sibley)

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